This last weekend our neighborhood had its annual block party, which starts with a bike parade for the kids and ends up with the adults sprawled all over someone’s yard and thinking about going back for another hot dog. Along the way there are also some games for the kids, one of which led to quite a sense of victory for Mandy.
The game in question can at its most basic level be expressed as “Tie balloons to kids’ ankles and tell them to stomp on all balloons but their own.” This sounded to me like a good recipe for broken toes and feet, but the last tyke standing would be awarded prizes so we sent both Sam and Mandy in. Sam was almost immediately knocked out of the game when a particularly shall we say “husky” child clomped up behind her and stomped on her baloon. She was distraught.
Mandy, on the other hand, adopted an approach more akin to Sweeden’s stance on world wars, only with fewer banks. She mostly just stood very still and made no aggressive moves of any kind while the other kids had their wars and their casualties. Several times a larger kid would approach her and raise his or her foot in preparation to pop Mandy’s balloon, but her large, innocent eyes and diminutive stature actually moved them all to back down and find a target that would not result in the shame that comes from crushing an unoffensive and harmless soul. At one point Geralyn nudged Mandy into the fray, and in a moment of unwarranted optimism she charged a hulking boy who was five times her size and who had probably driven himself to the festivities. But such was the power of Mandy’s timidity that even this lad took one look at her and actually RETREATED.
In the end, Mandy WON THE GAME simply by being small and meek while everyone else annihilated each other. She won her pick from a grab bag of toys, and for the rest of the night she would run up to me and shout “Daddy, I’m really good at the balloon stomping game!” I think that there is some very powerful lesson here for us adults, if only we could put our finger on it.
Sam, on the other hand, had to learn about defeat that night. Besides the balloon stomping game, there was another event involving relays. The gauntlet of events that the kids were supposed to run flummoxed even me, complicated and intricate as it was. There were like twelve steps involved, each of increasing complexity with the final one actually requiring calculus. I think. Sam joined her team in high spirits, but by the time her turn came up in the relays she exited the field in near hysterics, screaming “IT’S TOO COMPLICATED!” She then ran over to me apparently seething that she had won neither the balloon stomping game (a fact made even more stinging, no doubt, by the fact that Mandy had won) nor this relay race.
I tried to comfort her, but really what are you supposed to do in these kinds of situations? I took the opportunity to re-explain the concept of sportsmanship and that she should still attempt a competition even if she thinks she won’t win because it’s fun and she may surprise herself. I even pointed out that her team had benefited from her dropping out because they had one less teammate who had to complete the relay, but quickly re-evaluated this particular tactic as a failure when it caused Sam to nearly burst into new tears.
Still, they had a good time on balance and Sam soon forgot her frustrations as she ran off to make new friends with the children with whom she had been competing with just moments before. She’s a great kid.